As part of the Beyond Reality interview series, I interviewed Paul Webb, a camera operator, whose 30 year career in television, has taken him all around the world from shooting news and covering the O.J. Simpson trial, to working on countless seasons of US Survivor. I find out how Paul cut his teeth in news before taking on the world of reality TV.
To listen to the full interview, check out the Beyond Reality podcast here: Beyond Reality – Paul Webb.
Did you always want to work in TV?
I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school. I was working at a pub for my father – I was a forklift operator, storeman, bartender – jack of all trades! Out of luck, I got offered a camera assistant job with a cooking show that was coming to Australia. I travelled around with them for 5 weeks and that’s where I feel in love with the business. I sort of looked upon these two cameramen from LA as rockstars. I thought, that is a cool job – I wouldn’t mind giving that a go!
Did you go to University and if so, what did you study?
I couldn’t wait to get out of school, so study was never going to be my option. I hunted around Brisbane news networks and got eventually got offered a job as a camera assistant with Channel 9. Still to this day, I have no idea what I said in the job interview to get the job and that’s where I started, Channel 9 News in Brisbane as a sound recordist, camera assistant combination.
How did you transition from a camera assistant to a camera operator?
On my third year as a camera assistant, Channel 9 offered me some edit training, a lot of other camera assistants weren’t interested in that but I said yes. I did 6 months edit training and because I did that, I got promoted to training cameraman. The beauty of learning through news and current affairs is that you actually assist 10 – 12 different cameramen on any given day. You work with so many different personalities with different shooting styles so you just pick and choose what you like from each of them. You just have be a sponge and figure out what works for you!
What was your first job in reality TV and how did you land it?
I did lots of lifestyle shows, Auction Squad, Hot Property, Our House, Better Homes and Gardens when that came to Brisbane but my first big reality show was Big Brother season 1 in 2001.
Having had a career in news, was reality TV something that you were interested in getting in to?
I still remember watching the very first season of American Survivor in Borneo and I watched it, I just went; ‘That’s what I want to do! I want to work on that show’. I spent 4 years sending emails to the US, read the credits, found emails, stalked my way into Mark Burnett productions – did get offered a few early seasons but had children being born in the middle of that so that never happened. It was actually a few years later when I worked on a show called Outback Jack, an American show shot here in Western Australia. I met a bunch of camera ops that worked on the show and was able to work my way in that way. My first season of US Survivor was season 12 in Panama. I ended up working on 17 seasons of US Survivor and I’m not up to 5 seasons of Australian Survivor.
How does what you learnt as a camera operator in news apply to reality TV?
In news, you learn to work fast, you learn to get it right the first time because you may not get another chance and if you do stuff it up, you learn how to fix your mistakes. It all applies in reality TV.
Want to hear more stories from the people behind the TV shows you love>? check out my interview with Story Producer and Challenge Producer, Grant Phillips or Senior Story Producer, Erica Foley.